Updated: Apr 7, 2020
by Cassandra Varanka
What if this fall every college student in the United States was sent off to campus with a $44,812.50 scholarship to cover their tuition, books, room and board? Assuming there are approximately 16 million undergraduate college students in the United States, that level of financial support would amount to a total price tag of $717 billion. For most people, that’s an unfathomable price tag. No wonder we don’t give full scholarships to every college student in the United States, who has that kind of money? The Pentagon does. The National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Trump in August authorized $717 billion for defense spending for FY19. Imagine what we could if we redirected those dollars and invested them in students instead.
(Source: flickr user thisisbossi)
Every year, the Pentagon and related military programs take up the largest chunk of the United States’ discretionary spending. This year’s $717 billion is an increase over prior years, but only marginally so. What does the Pentagon do with all this money? It’s a great question — and one that the Pentagon cannot currently answer. The Pentagon is in the process of its first-ever full financial audit, the results of which are due late this fall. It’s likely that audit will expose waste, fraud, and abuse of the Pentagon’s massive budget. Afterall, an internal Pentagon report issued in January of 2015 already documented $125 billion in administrative waste.
Even when we do know where defense dollars are going it doesn’t necessarily mean they are being spent efficiently or wisely. The Defense Department is known for costly weapons and equipment. The F-35 is among the best known of such projects. The F-35 is the next generation of fighter jet, “combining advanced stealth with fighter speed and agility, fully fused sensor information, network-enabled operations and advanced sustainment”, according to the Lockheed Martin website promoting it. What it actually is is exorbitantly expensive. The F-35 fighter jet will get $10.7 billion this year alone, the overall price of developing and manufacturing the the F-35 is estimated to come in at $406.5 billion by the time the project is complete. Add in operating costs for long-term operations and support through 2070 and the total comes to $1.2 trillion.
Meanwhile, college is becoming less and less affordable. Low and moderate income students (those from families earning $69,000 or less) can only afford 1 to 5 percent of colleges in the United States. For many of those who do manage to find an “affordable” college, the cost can be going hungry. As many as half of college students in recent published studies have reported that they were food insecure. The U.S. Department of Education estimates that at least 32,000 college students were homeless in 2017. What are we doing about these issues? President Trump proposed cutting over $200 billion in student aid funding over the next decade — including over $1.4 billion in annual grant aid and student support to low-income students.
It’s clear that our country will never allocate $717 billion a year solely for college scholarships. The thought is laughable. It’s just as unthinkable that we’d ever entirely defund the Pentagon. It serves a needed purpose — protecting the United States from global threats, and doing so will always require some amount of money. But why do we blindly give the Department of Defense so much money, continually handing over our tax dollars despite documented waste? At the same time, it is not only considered unfathomable that we take needed steps to support college students, we are actively cutting the resources available to them. Budgets are moral documents — and our current budget sends a strong message to the world about what we value. The fact that we are sending college students back to campus without enough to eat while we continue to blindly fund the Pentagon war machine is a back to school tradition we all must question.